“An authentic life.”
For some reason, this phrase, neither new nor newly trendy, has been popping up more and more in reading, conversations, casual messages and in-depth debates in my field of awareness lately. For some reason, although I often care very deeply about the people involved in the discussion, the words themselves leave me cold – or perhaps that’s too harsh. Less than cold, then, but also less than moved. I don’t roll my eyes, as at “That’s not fair.” I don’t despise the speaker. I don’t even mind that it’s a cliché whose meaning is entirely dependent upon its user; most human experience fits into well-worn phrases when viewed from the outside. And I understand, once the explanations begin, what different people mean by it: searching for your true work, maybe, or living closer to the land, or connecting more with people than with things. I simply don’t like the descriptor itself nor the way it tends to be used.
What bothers me, I think, is this: the implication that life itself can be inauthentic. Somehow, an inauthentic life lurks among consumer goods and mindless entertainment, surrounding us, seducing us with hot baths and instant food, fossil fuels and SUV’s and jobs we do for the money to buy more and more… Stop for a moment, please. Stop focusing on the distractions – they are, after all, the products of our own desires, and desire is the most authentic drive humans have. Is cataloging the extraneous the way to find the essential? Isn’t it more useful to determine the shape of your own humanity than to deride other people’s choices? Is proselytizing ever as effective as quietly living your beliefs?
The six groups of words I find most necessary to my own sanity are questions, not statements of desire, and for all the thought, error and time it takes to arrive at them, the answers are generally simple and specific. I trust simplicity and specificity – that is my own bias, developed through my own experience, but it’s always possible that someone else might find my questions at least interesting, if not useful. So here they are, in no particular order, but much the same as they’ve been for quite a while.
- What do you create?
- Whom do you help?
- What do you protect?
- What would you suffer for?
- What have you made better?
- Who can trust you?
The less the answers contain “myself,” the better and truer I feel. Maybe authenticity, like happiness, is a pleasant side effect rather than an achievable goal.